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Saturday, November 12, 2011

How to Make an Ebook: Appx. A - Creating the PDB Ebook

Note: these articles will form the core of a new ebook by this title. Disclaimer: I do not work for, represent, or am associated with anyone who works or represents the sites or products I've listed below. I'm not getting any fees for listing them here. Any company names, trademarks, etc, are the property of the respective company.

I didn't include the creation of the PDB ebook in the steps above for several reasons. One, because it isn't as widely used of a format. Two, because it isn't as easy to create as the others, requiring a little more file juggling and editing. Three, because it wasn't needed to upload any files to retailers. Four, because the Smashword conversion creates one that you can download if this format was needed.

That said, if you are going to sell ebooks on your own ebook store, or want a PDB file that will look more professional than the one Smashwords creates, then this can be a worthwhile file to create. Primarily because while not as widely used, the program to read the file can be installed on most smart phones and tablets. And personally, at least on my Windows machine, the computer version of the software is the best way to read an ebook on your computer. Unlike most every other ebook reader software you can download, it looks like a book, flips like a book, and is easy to read than the standard black on white. I like it better than reading a PDF on the computer. And like PDFs, the software to read them is free. So why leave a segment of the market that likes this format without access to your ebook?

What is the PDB format? It is one of the first ebook formats created. Originally, it was used for Palm Organizers, and stood for Palm Digital Books. The format has changed hands a few times, once owned by Peanuts Press when Palm Digital media released it, and after them was acquired by, which is currently owned by Barnes and Noble. But has become the main source for PDB books, as well as the place to download the Ereader software and the software to make the books.

Unfortunately, the free software to create PDB books isn't easy to use. Mainly because it requires formatting your book with codes so that the conversion software can create the ebook. The code is known as PML, which stands for Palm Markup Language. It works a lot like HTML codes, except slightly different. For instance, everywhere in your document you want text to be italicized, you enclose it between two "\i" on either end. So if I wanted the ebook to show, "Now this is the way to do it!" I would have to have in the source file, "Now \ithis\i is the way to do it!"

Needless to say, that means learning a whole new "language" and doing several search and replace sessions to get all the code in the right places. And then frequently the first time or two you'll get errors because you didn't do something quite right and need to go back and fix it, then try again. I've done it that way, but it is a pain at times.

But have no fear! Thankfully for us, there is a macro in Open Office Writer that will make this process much easier. Still some work to do, but the coding part of it is taken care of. So, let's get to it.

What You Will Need

We will be using Open Office Writer, no matter whether your file was created in Word or another program. You'll also need to install the odt2pml extension for Writer. To do that, open Writer, click on "Tools" in the menu, then select "Extension Manager." When the window opens, click on the text link in the bottom-left corner that says, "Get more extensions on line." That will open a web page of Writer's extensions. In the search field on the left side of the page, enter without the quotes, "odt2pml". The search should bring up a selection labeled "odt2pml – EReader export extension." Click on that link, and then click on the Get extension button. Open the extension in Writer, or download and open from your hard drive. Once installed, close Writer.

You will also need two programs from Go to and download the Ereader software for your computer, and install it. Then go to and download, then install the version of Dropbook for your computer. Linux users will have to download the Windows version and run it in Wine or other emulator. Note, you want the Dropbook download, not the Makebook toward the bottom.

You'll also be using the graphics editing program we downloaded earlier, Faststone, if your book contains any graphic files like a cover or other graphics.

Now we're ready to roll!

Creating the PDB Ebook

Open your print file in Writer. You don't need to change your text, but make sure you have set your chapter heading style to insert page breaks. The extension will pick up on those to know where to insert them.

You will want to add your cover to the front of the file before we move on. Press Ctrl-Home to go to the top of the file. Press Ctrl-Enter to insert a page break before the first page. Press Ctrl-Home again to go to the top of that page. Set the paragraph style to default centered. Then click on "Insert" in the menu, and select "Picture" from the list, and "From file" in the sub-menu. Locate your cover for the book and insert it into the first page.

Assuming you have everything else set in the file they way you want it as regards content, font used, justified, etc., the next step is to save the file to create a PDB version of the source file. Click "File" in the menu, "Save as" from the list, and in the window, add a "-PDB" to the file, so in our previously used example, the file, "MyLastBreath-print.odt" would now be "MyLastBreath-PDB.odt". You should now have the original print file and a new PDB labeled file.

Now that we know you won't be messing up your print file, we can have the extension process any graphics you have in the file. Normally you would at least have the cover page, but you may have other graphics in the file as well.

In Writer, click "Tools" in the menu, then go to the bottom where it says "Add-ons." Selecting that option will bring up a sub-menu, and one of those selections should say "odt2pml." Selecting that will bring up a further sub-menu with four selections. Two of them you don't need if you've formatted everything according to previous instructions. But we do want to run the option labeled "Picture converter" next. Once you have selected that option, a window will appear with an choice and three buttons. Click on the "To Paragraph" option in the "Picture anchor" section. Then click the "Continue" button. At that point, the extension will do its thing. Once done, save the changes by clicking "File" and "Save."

Are we ready to convert yet? No. First we have to do some editing on the pictures. The extension will have created a sub-directory where your ebook is located using your file name and "_img" attached to the end. So our ebook file labeled "MyLastBreath-PDB.odt" will create a directory where that file resides called "MyLastBreath-PDB_img." Using your file manager, open that directory up. You'll see a graphics file for each type of graphic you had in your document.

First, we need to make sure the picture fits within a 320 wide by 420 high pixel size. If it doesn't, what you see in the ebook is a link that when clicked on, brings up a view of the picture. Best to avoid that.

Open the first graphic in Faststone image editor. You will see the size of the file in pixels at the top. If the width is greater than 320, or the height is more than 420, resize the picture to fit within those maximums. Move your cursor to the left side of the screen. A menu list will pop open. Select "Resize / Resample." This will bring up a resizing window. Make sure the "Preserve aspect ratio" is checked in the bottom-left corner of the window. With "Pixel" section selected, enter in the height box without the quotation marks, "420". Make sure the resulting width is not larger than 320 pixels. If it is, enter 320 in the width field, and the height field should be less than 420. Once done, click the "OK" button and it will resize the picture.

The second item we need to process is to make sure the file is saved in 8-bit, 256 color format. Anything else the program will reject. Since our graphic program exports in 24 True Color, we have to fix that for each file as we save it.

Once the size is right, move your cursor to the left edge of the screen and the menu will appear. Select "Save as" from the list, and a window will open allowing you to save the file. We don't need to change the file name or type, but you will see a button on the bottom-right of that window labeled "Options." Click on it. A window will open, and you will see a drop-down box that says "24-bit" in most cases. Click on that drop-down box and select "256" from the options. Then click the "OK" button and it will return you to the save screen. Click the "OK" button again and acknowledgment that you want to overwrite the file.

Press the "Page Down" button to move to the next graphic and repeat the above process. Do this for each graphic in the directory. When you finish with that task, there is one more step to do here before we are done. Find the graphic in the directory which is your cover file. Rename the file to "cover.png". This is the file that the conversion program looks for to make as the cover file for the book.

We are now ready to process the file once we change one more thing. We no longer need the cover file info at the top of the file as that will automatically get included. We only included it so that it would get processed with the rest of your graphics if you had any. Back to your document, press Ctrl-Home, select the outlined picture which is now linked, so all you'll see is the directory/file text where the picture resides. Delete that placeholder and delete the page so that your title page is now the first page of the document. Save the file.

Now we are ready to create the PML file. Click "Tools" in the menu, and select "Add ons" in the drop-down menu. Select "odt2pml" and then click on "Ereader export." A window will appear. One of the buttons on that window is labeled "Configuration." When you click on that button, you have the option to have the extension run Dropbook once the PML file is ready. You can check the box, then browse to find the program on your hard drive (usually in C:\Program Files\ directory on most Window machines). However, I recommend not doing it. I've had it run it before I was ready and it can be frustrating, and there is one other step that is good to do to make the PDB look professional that will get skipped if this is selected. But it is your call. If the file is ready (pictures are edited and ready to go), it can be a convenience not have to run the program yourself. Make your selection and click the "OK" button.

With the default "Extended 2" character set selected, click on the "Continue" button. The extension will now run, and once done, it will have created a PML file in the book's directory. If using our example file name, you should see "MyLastBreath-PDB.pml." Before we can use it to create the PDB ebook, we need to edit the PML file to make one minor change.

Open the resulting PML file in the text editor of your choice. In Windows, Wordpad or Notepad works fine. At the top of the file, you should see something similar to this, inserting the name of your book's file for my example: TITLE="MyLastBreath-PDB". The extension has the minor annoyance of using the file name for the title of the book. If you don't change this here, when the user opens up the book in their PDB reader, it will show that file name as the title in the book's page info. Not good. So change everything within the quotation marks to the title of your book. In our example's case, it would now read: TITLE="My Last Breath".

Close the file, saving it. If you've opened this up in a word processor, make sure it is saving it as plain text and not a word processor file, or the ebook creation will not work.

Now we can create the PDB file. Finally! Open the Dropbook program. You will see a window open with a Dropbook Pro logo and text saying to "Drop Files Here." It is called Dropbook in part because all you have to do is take that PML file and drag it into the box, and it does the rest. But, before you do that, make sure some setting are set, especially if this is the first time you've used the program.

If you want to have it automatically overwrite an existing file, click to check off the box labeled as such. You can also have it warn you by checking off that box, or just do it by leaving that box unchecked. Leave "Include page tables" checked.

The next section allows you to create an encrypted book, or a book locked with a password, or have no security on it at all. I would suggest to select "Build unencrypted book." It wasn't the default selection my first time running it. However, if you are of the mind that you want yours encrypted or locked for whatever reason, this is the time to make that selection. There is also a check box if you want it to create a dictionary. I've not used that function before, but you can give it a shot and see what it creates. It is easy enough to redo the conversion if it isn't good.

Now in your file manager, click on and drag the PML file into the box at the top of the Dropbook window. The program will process the file and notify you of any warnings or errors it encounters. If all goes well, it will say nothing, but you'll see a new file ending with "PDB" in your book's directory. In my example's case, it would say "MyLastBreath-PDB.pdb".

Now you should be able to double-click on that file, and the book will open up in the Ereader program. Check the table of contents and scan through the file to see if it looks as expected. If you spot any problems, fix it in the source file and then recreate the book. If you don't need to change the graphics, you can use the -PDB version of the odt file, otherwise, you'll need to start with the print file and go back to the beginning of the process after correcting the problem there.

If all looks good, you have yourself a PDB ebook to sell or use for yourself. Congratulations!

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